Logo: University of Southern California

Louis Martin-Vega Delivers Inaugural Rechtin Keynote Lecture

October 03, 2007 — Industrial engineering continues to play a critical role in the development of complex consumer and industrial systems, transportation, health and resource management systems, says Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University and president of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE).
Louis Martin-Vega, left, dean of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University, and James E. Moore, II, chair of the Viterbi School's Epstein Department of Industiral and Systems  Engineering.

But the IIE president warned that its growth and continued relevance in the 21st century will hinge on a major shift in emphasis from the practice of “industrial” engineering to “systems” engineering.

Martin-Vega delivered the inaugural Rechtin Keynote Lecture, hosted Sept. 27 by the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.  In his address, entitled “Industrial Engineering in the 21st Century:  Challenges and Opportunities,” he congratulated the Epstein Department for adopting a systems approach in all of its academic and professional endeavors. At the same time, he urged industrial engineering faculty and all professionals to “try much harder to intersect with our sister engineering disciplines, and in particular, with the future of engineering.”

“We are all well aware of the value of interactions that exist between industrial engineering and management, psychology, applied math and other disciplines…there is a lot of merit in these interactions,” Martin-Vega said, “but unless we try much harder… we are going to lose the most critical part of our identity and never become the revolutionary leaders we need to be.”

Industrial engineering involves the design, improvement, and installation of integrated systems of people, materials, information, equipment, and energy.  It draws upon specialized knowledge and skill in the mathematical, physical and social sciences, together with the principles and methods of engineering analysis and design, to specify, predict, and evaluate the results to be obtained from such systems.  Systems engineering deals with the complex interrelationships within systems comprised of people, equipment, materials, information and energy, and examines ways to better design, implement, improve and manage the performance of these integrated systems. Industrial and systems engineering together provides the perfect blend of technical skills and people orientation.

Martin-Vegas said the IIE has been engaged in a dialogue since 2006 to change its name from the Institute of Industrial Engineers to the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers.   “When that happens, I can assure you that it will be due to a large degree to the kinds of efforts led by Eberhardt Rechtin and the Epstein Department, which has not just adopted industrial systems engineering in its name, but has truly ingrained systems engineering into the core of its educational and research mission.” 

Systems engineering must move quickly forward into the worlds of bio, nano, and IT, the three “transcendental” technologies that are driving and will continue to drive discovery, innovation and progress well into the 21st century, he said.
Martin-Vega, second from left, chats with engineerng students and James Moore, right, at a reception preceding the keynote lecgture.

“Bioengineering is literally the intersection of engineering with the life sciences,” Martin-Vega said, “and provides numerous opportunities for industrial and systems engineers to impact both the development and growth of new products and services, in areas such as bio-manufacturing, bio-production, bio-processing and many other bio-driven technologies.

“While health care delivery systems are also considered a part of this intersection, one in which industrial systems has played a significant role for many years, I’m referring more specifically to the design and development of devices and processes that underly the conversion of bio-based prototype products to full-scale cost-effective production systems,” he said.  “This should be our domain, and there are challenges and opportunities for us to play a much greater role.”   

Nanotechnology – the domain of the “very, very, very…..very, very, very… very, very, very small” – opens up another world that needs industrial and systems engineering skills, he said.  The concept of nano-manufacturing is still evolving, he said, giving industrial and systems engineers a golden opportunity to play a significant role in its definition before others define it in their absence.

"While there are a number of academics and industrial and systems engineers who are involved at the boundaries of the field, to date there is only one ISE-led effort in nano-manufacturing and it has achieved the scale of an Engineering Research Center activity,” Martin-Vega said. “It is urgent that we (industrial and systems engineers) play a leading role, so that this field does not find itself on the sidelines of this driving societal force.”

Industrial and systems engineers should also be aware of the “digital divide” that exists among computer users and non-users, and committed to the development of new products and processes that will truly help level the world’s playing field in information technology for future generations, he said.    

“Friedman’s ‘flat world’ is, of course, driven by the interconnectivity and accessibility that IT provides to so many of us,” Martin-Vega said.  “Even there, we find an important caveat: I would argue that the world is really flat only to those who have access to this technology.”

While visiting Google’s headquarters recently, Martin-Vega saw the company’s iconic giant globe, which emits different colors of light to represent real-time surges of interactivity around the world. He said parts of the world were noticeably dark.

“Google’s goal is clearly to light up the world, but there are many dark places, which represent the ‘have-nots,’” he said.  “It’s also clear to me that Google alone is not able to architect the challenge of providing accessibility to the world.”

That’s where industrial and systems engineers come in.
Eberhardt Rechtin

The Rechtin Keynote Lecture was named for Eberhardt Rechtin (1926-2006), a USC Viterbi School professor emeritus who had academic appointments in three departments and who also received an honorary degree from USC.  Rechtin, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, played a key role in the development of U.S. space technology in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, before joining the USC faculty and creating the Systems Architecting and Engineering (SAE) Program. 

In addition to writing some of the seminal literature on systems architecting, Rechtin was a superb teacher who never failed to inspire students.  Today, the Epstein Department’s Systems Architecting and Engineering Program is the department’s largest and fastest growing degree program, and the national leader in the field.